ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON by Frank McLynn

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 In time for the centenary of Stevenson's death, this weighty biography ballasts the romantic version of his life, from his wild youth in Edinburgh to his exile in Samoa, with an integrated appreciation of Scotland's best writer. Historian and biographer McLynn (Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa, 1993, etc.) is a good match for Stevenson and a doughty partisan for his literary worth, which suffered posthumously from both the hagiography encouraged by his wife, Fanny, and from subsequent Bloomsbury debunking. Now, with later champions like Borges and Nabokov and recently renewed biographical interest, Stevenson can no longer be dismissed as a children's author with adult crossover appeal or a dilettante with a Byronic talent for living more interestingly than he wrote. McLynn balances a historian's thorough research with well-chosen excerpts from Stevenson's letters, essays, and verse, whose grace makes an unflattering contrast with the biography's tone-deaf prose. McLynn intimately depicts Stevenson's sickly childhood in Edinburgh (particularly the Calvinist nurse who had an acknowledged effect on his imagination), bohemian university days, early literary career, and later travels. The writer's life took an unlooked-for turn when he met Fanny Osbourne, a married American with a frontier temperament, misplaced artistic aspirations, and neurotic possessiveness-or at least that was the opinion of his friends, particularly editor and poet W.E. Henley, who famously fell out with Stevenson after he set out for Samoa to improve his health. In the Pacific Stevenson outdid Melville, at least with the Samoans, who accorded him heroic status. The book is marred toward the end by McLynn's undisguised antipathy for Fanny and her clan, whose demands are blamed for Stevenson's stroke and the lower quality of his South Seas writings. (For The Collected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, see p. 1347.) Nonetheless, Stevenson's charm is visible in every letter and essay quoted in this noteworthy biography. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-41284-0
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994




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